Anemia is a common disease in children. It is very often forgotten, however, that the iron carrying substance in blood (hemoglobin) which is at a very high level at birth, normally falls to a lower level by the age of 3 months. The level then stays the same until about 18 months and then rises gradually, reaching the adult standard in older children 10 to 12 years.
For the first few years of life, the normal child has a hemoglobin level which is about 70 percent, that of the normal adult. The fact that this is the normal course of events needs to be stressed. No matter how much additional iron is administered, the young child’s blood will be maintained at this level and he will not be suffering from anemia.
Children develop anemia easily. One reason for this is the rapid growth that takes place, especially during infancy.
Both human milk and cow’s milk contain very little iron and the baby has to store iron in the body before birth in order to maintain the necessary blood levels during the first few months of life while on a milk diet.
Anything that interferes with the storage of iron before birth may cause anemia during childhood. Examples of such conditions are: anemia of the mother in pregnancy, premature or twin birth.
Children are susceptible to vomiting and/or diarrhea and digestive disturbances, which interfere with their intake of food and with the absorption of iron from alimentary tract. A child sick from any cause loses his appetite and may not eat sufficient iron containing foods.
Many normal, healthy children refuse food or have food fads and this may also cause nutritional iron deficiency and anemia. Vitamin deficiencies may cause anemia. Babies may be born anemic or jaundiced, due to the mother’s Rh blood group. Any type of bleeding may lead to anemia.
It is very difficult to assess anemia merely on the appearance of a child. Pallor of the face may be caused by various conditions, and the anemic child can still have a fresh complexion. However, a pale appearance of the finger nails or the palms of the hands, or face, together with lack of energy, poor appetite and failure to thrive, lead one to suspect anemia.
Thalassemia is a blood disease that causes severe anemia.
It is found in people who come from southern Italy, Sicily and Malaya. It is a genetically transmitted disease, and occurs in two forms, minor and major. Blood tests can be used to determine whether a person has the disease.
If someone with Thalassemia minor marries a normal person, half their children have the chance of having Thalassemia minor. If two people with Thalassemia minor marry, one quarter of their children will have the far more serious and disabling disease of Thalassemia major. One half will have Thalassemia minor, and the other quarter will be normal.
Patients with Thalassemia major are very anemic, weak and susceptible to other diseases. They lead a very restricted life as a result.
To prevent nutritional anemia give iron containing foods in the diet such as: Egg yolk at 3 months of age, vegetables at 4 months, and later meat, especially liver.
When there is a likelihood of anemia developing, as in the circumstances already mentioned, the child should attend his doctor regarding the advisability of a blood count.